Some Boston-area suburbs are very well-known due to their proximity to Boston, their history, or what they contain. Cambridge, for example, is the ultimate university town, home to both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Medford is home to Tufts University, while Salem’s history – and the famous Witch Trials – has made this town a popular tourist destination.
But the area around Boston is filled with hidden gems – historic little New England towns oozing small-town charm and extraordinary architecture. Here are a few that you should consider when thinking about moving to an apartment near Boston:
Chelmsford is the type of New England town that brings to mind red barns and historic mills. Chelmsford is located about 29 miles northwest of downtown Boston. It was one of the Massachusetts Bay Colonies, settled around 1653 with the town charter granted in 1655. In 1656, Samuel Adams built a saw and grist mill in town.
With roughly 360 years’ worth of history, the town of Chelmsford is awe-inspiring. It is also pedestrian-friendly, has a terrific downtown shopping district, and an abundance of parks. If you decide to rent an apartment in Chelmsford, be sure to check out the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, a gorgeous park featuring a town common, a beach, and a performance stage. The Chelmsford Town Common looks like something out of a storybook, complete with stone walls and a historic stone sculpture. The Chelmsford Town Common is the location of the Farmer’s Market and the summer concert series.
In 1775, a young farmer was about to join the militia and become one of Billerica’s minute men. His name was Thomas Ditson, Jr. And while you probably aren’t familiar with him or the events surrounding him, you will be very familiar with the result. Ditson went to Boston to buy firearms before he joined the minute men and was captured by a group of British soldiers. The British soldiers decided to make an example of Ditson, so they tarred and feathered him, tied him up on a donkey cart, and paraded him through the streets of Boston while jeering and singing insults. One of those insults started, “Yankee Doodle came to town, for to buy a firelock, we will tar and feather him, and so we will John Hancock …” The townspeople were so enraged by this that a large crowd gathered and the soldiers were forced to release Ditson. Ditson survived the incident and joined the Billerica Minutemen. He went on to fight in several battles, including at Bunker Hill.
Today, Billerica is officially recognized as “America’s Yankee Doodle Town.” During September, a festival is held to honor Ditson, complete with a reenactment of his tar and feathering. It is believed that after this incident, colonists embraced the song that was meant to mock them, changed the lyrics, and turned the song into a point of pride. But history isn’t the only reason to consider renting an apartment in Billerica. It has several terrific and unique parks, an 18-hole public golf course, and a beautiful town common that includes the remains of the original 1655 town common. The oldest surviving building in Billerica, Manning Manse, was built around 1696.
A relative “new kid on the block,” Shrewsbury wasn’t settled until 1722. After the American Revolution, things were difficult for residents in Shrewsbury and in other rural parts of Massachusetts. A depressed economy and aggressive taxes caused a group of rebels led by Daniel Shays to stage what is now referred to as Shay’s Rebellion. The rebellion lasted from 1786-1787, when the rebels attempted to overthrow the state government. Shrewsbury served as a staging area and encampment for roughly 400 of the insurgents. While the rebellion was squelched with very little bloodshed, this event changed how the federal government functioned and eventually led to George Washington becoming the first President in 1789.
Today, Shrewsbury is a postcard-perfect community, complete with historic sites, a beautiful downtown with a historic square and quaint shops. Residents of Shrewsbury can go fishing, cross-country skiing, picnicking, and more at Dean Park, or they can tackle the nine groomed trails at Ski Ward.
Travel about 28 miles north from Boston and you’ll discover the beautiful town of Dracut. Settlers began moving to the area around 1653, and the town was incorporated in 1701. The town is dotted with bogs, ponds, and brooks. Beaver Brook, a tributary of Merrimack River and spanning more than 30 miles, winds through Dracut and was a popular location for mills. Those former mill buildings now house shops, restaurants, and apartments in a beautiful and historical mixed-use area. Dracut features an annual craft fair that is held on the grounds of one of the town’s oldest houses, the Colburn/Cutter House, which was built around 1717.
Dracut is more than just a beautiful suburb of nearby Boston and Lowell. This ideally-located town has plenty to offer, including the Lowell Dracut Tyngsborough State Forest, a 1,040-acre park that provides opportunities for cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking, bicycling, ice skating, horseback riding, and camping.
A group of Puritan settlers moved to the area of Dedham in 1635, and they quickly devised a form of government for their new town. They built America’s first-ever canal, developed the first tax-supported public school, and kept detailed records – one of very few early towns to do so. Thanks to Dedham’s forward-thinking early residents, we have a clear picture of what towns were like during colonial times.
One of those Puritan settlers, Jonathan Fairebanke, built a wood house somewhere around 1637 for him and his family. That house – the Fairbanks House – still stands today and is a historic house museum listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is believed to be the oldest home in New England and the oldest house that was continuously owned by the builder’s direct descendants — the home never had a mortgage placed on it.
When you think of Dedham, you might picture a bowl (or pitcher, or plate) with a crackle glaze and cobalt designs of rabbits and ducks. Dedham Pottery began in Dedham in 1896. Although Dedham Pottery closed in 1943, the pottery is still quite popular, and the Dedham Historical Society has a large number of original pieces. The society, which holds the rights to the pottery designs, creates reproductions of the pottery (clearly labeled as such) for their shop.
Once named one of Greater Boston’s top places to live, Natick is surprisingly affordable, considering its location near much more expensive towns, such as Dover, Wellesley, and Weston. The town also has miles of walking trails, the fashionable Natick Collection shopping mall, and a beautiful downtown in the traditional New England style. If strolling along brick-lined sidewalks surrounded by historical architecture doesn’t inspire you, Natick’s location just 15 miles west of Boston might – or perhaps the town’s unique history will entice you to find a Natick apartment!
Natick was settled in 1651 by a Puritan missionary named John Eliot as a “praying town,” one of only fourteen. Praying towns existed between 1651 and 1675 and were populated by Native Americans that Eliot converted to Christianity – they were known as “Praying Indians.” Natick and Punkapog were the only praying towns with independent congregations. During King Philip’s War in 1677, the praying Indians of Natick were sent to Deer Island, where many died due to cold and disease. Because of this, and the fact that many homes were destroyed in the war, the praying town never recovered.
What do shoes and baseballs have in common? Both are tied to Natick! Former Vice President Henry Wilson (who served under President Ulysses S. Grant) lived in Natick as a shoemaker – he was even known as the “Natick Cobbler.” After the sewing machine was invented in 1858, the shoe industry took off in Natick with 23 factories, making it the third-largest shoe-producing place in the country. Natick mostly made brogans, a heavy shoe or boot that was worn by soldiers in the American Revolution and the Civil War.
If you love baseball, then you’ll love living in Natick! It is home to the very first plant that manufactured baseballs – at the H. Harwood & Sons factory, built in 1858. The company also created the figure eight design on baseballs. Today, the factory is a large condominium community.
The Boston area is an active, dynamic, and historic place to live. As you search for apartments around Boston, be sure to check out the 100 or so towns that are scattered throughout the area – you might just stumble across a place you hadn’t considered, and maybe have never even heard of, but it is definitely home.